When I travel, I am always fascinated by just how much there is to see and experience in our beautiful and fascinating world, and by how it would take more than ten lifetimes to even scratch the surface in exploring it.
I’ve been to Las Vegas at least fifteen times but have never been to Lake Tahoe; I’ve hopped down to South Carolina on ten or more trips but have yet to see the charming southern town of Charleston; and, I visited New Orleans with my mother when I was seventeen for a quick day trip, but I’ve never had the proper “N’awlins” experience.
You get my drift—for me, traveling isn’t about just checking off destinations. I am frequently asked about my ‘country count’– i.e., how many countries I’ve visited so far. While that number is frequently expanding and I always enjoy ticking off a new country or state, this is not why I travel. For me, travel is about so much more than going to a place to say I’ve been there: I travel because it inspires and teaches me, expands who I am, causes me to be a better human being and helps me to live to my fullest self.
So, while traveling to Michigan recently allowed me to ‘check off’ my 49th U.S. state, there is so much more to see and experience there. From all that I saw and did during my visit, here is my personal ‘Top 5” guide to Northern Michigan:
1. Hunt for Shipwrecks on the Crystal Clear Great Lakes
I was absolutely floored by the enormity and grandeur of the Great Lakes. These aren’t just lakes; they’re so massive that Great Britain would fit inside of Lake Superior!! They feel more like freshwater oceans. Lake Huron’s Thunderhead Bay National Marine Sanctuary holds dozens of shipwrecks. The water is unbelievably clear, so if you take a glass-bottom boat tour like I did, you can see the wrecks in clear view from the boat, a view that cannot normally be obtained without being 100 feet underwater with a scuba tank of your back.
2. Eat Garden-To-Table at Alpena’s Globally Inspired Restaurants
I was beyond impressed by three restaurants in Alpena: The Cellar, The Courtyard and The Fresh Palate. All of the restaurants’ owners grew up in Alpena but had moved away for a time and lived in Alaska, Venice Beach, California and Hawaii, respectively, before returning to their beloved community to open businesses and raise their families.
They each gained inspiration from their travels and have incorporated that inspiration in to all they do.
The Cellar served unique offerings like a seared bison with thai basil and a coconut red curry sauce and a Tahitian vanilla panna cotta with stewed blueberries, lemon and thyme.
At The Courtyard, owners Lora and Chris lived in California and also traveled extensively before moving back to Alpena. Prior, on a trip to Italy, Chris realized just how fresh the food is there, with many of the vegetables being grown out back by the restaurants’ families.
So when Chris and Lora opened The Courtyard, they cultivated a massive garden on property that now provides the majority of the restaurant’s produce. And it’s really become a community affair, with friends, family members and neighbors joining to help tend the garden. They use all of the fresh produce they’re able to, and then they can, freeze and preserve the rest to use during the winter months.
Finally at The Fresh Palate, owner Eric Peterson, along with his wife Stacie, lived in Hawaii after also going to culinary school out-of-state. He decided he wanted to bring fresh, healthy food and more choices to their hometown.
Lighthouses are magical– people have always had a fascination with them. Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state in the U.S., some of which are still operational and others which are landmarks. You can climb up in them and get a view from the top, so if you enjoy being out in nature and having killer views, a lighthouse tour is definitely something you’d enjoy!
4. Drink Local Brew With Pirates at the Tall Ships Celebration
Each year, Tall Ships sail throughout the Great Lakes, making stops in Duluth, Toronto, Green Bay and Chicago, amongst others. I went to the Tall Ships Celebration in Bay City, Michigan, and I learned about this entirely new world that exists, where modern-day crews man these massive ships and sleep under deck, some of the ships sailing exclusively in the Great Lakes and others sailing throughout the world. There was a jovial celebration that followed with handfuls of pirates, lots of freshly brewed beer and lively Celtic music.
5. Explore Michigan’s Own Little Bavaria in Frankenmuth
If you want to take a trip to Europe but desire to stay closer to home, Frankenmuth, Michigan would be a great place to start. Known as Michigan’s Little Bavaria, the flower-lined streets and charming shops really do make you feel like you’re in a far, distant place. Especially, when you see a guy like this walking down the street in a lederhosen.
Frankemuth is also home to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the WORLD’s largest Christmas store. Literally– this place covers the space of 1&1/2 football fields. So if you’re as “in to” holidays as I am, you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store here.
These are the beautiful things about traveling: hearing peoples’ stories, discovering new places and doing things that you’ve never done before. I hope wherever you venture to next, you dig into the culture a bit, try some new food, have a few good conversations and carry a spirit of exploration with you everywhere you go.